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Photo: Alan Meerow
Alan Meerow with Griffinia intermedia (Amaryllidaceae) in Brazil. Photo: Judy Dutilh.

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ARS Genetics Researcher in Miami is Named Fairchild Medal Recipient

By Dennis O’Brien
February 3, 2017

Kalāheo, Hawaii, Feb. 3, 2017Alan W. Meerow, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has been awarded the 2017 David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration by the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG).

This not-for-profit, non-governmental organization is based in Kaua'i, Hawaii and is dedicated to tropical plant conservation, research and education. It is honoring Meerow, a geneticist at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station's National Germplasm Repository in Miami, for an eclectic career that combines botany, horticulture and genetic research.

A native of New York, Meerow graduated from The Bronx High School of Science. He moved to California at age 19 and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Davis and a master's degree and doctorate degree from the University of Florida. He was a professor at the University of Florida's Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center from 1987 until 1999 when he joined ARS.

Meerow has overseen breeding and selection programs for a variety of subtropical ornamental plants for introduction into commercial horticulture. He also has conducted extensive analyses focused on the evolutionary and genetic relationships of plants in the amaryllis, palm and cycad families.

He has published and contributed to scores of academic papers, journals, books and other publications and has more than 35 years of experience collecting plants in Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Central and South America. His field research is focused on bulb and tuber-born plants and searching for new plant germplasm.

His books on palms and horticulture are mainstays of the landscape trade throughout the southern United States and in academia. NTBG's Director and CEO Chipper Wichman called Meerow "a rare blend of traditional botanist, a consummate hands-in-the-dirt horticulturist and plant collector, and cutting-edge genetics researcher."

The award will be presented tonight at a dinner at The Kampong, NTBG's garden in Coconut Grove, Florida.

The award is named for David Fairchild, an "Indiana Jones"-type plant explorer who devoted much of his life to searching the world for plants suitable for introduction into the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fairchild's efforts abroad led to the introduction of many tropical plants of economic importance into the United States, including sorghum, nectarines, bamboo, dates and mangoes. As director of USDA's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, he also was instrumental in introducing approximately 75,000 plant varieties and plant species into the U.S.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting Americans every day.